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Return of CCTV would help tackle anti-social behaviour in Belfast's Holyland, say residents

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Students in the Holyland area of south Belfast on St Patrick’s Day

Students in the Holyland area of south Belfast on St Patrick’s Day

Students in the Holyland area of south Belfast on St Patrick’s Day

Residents and community groups in the Holyland area of Belfast have welcomed a new study which recommends a return to CCTV in the area to tackle anti-social behaviour.

The Holyland Transition Study was launched last week, after being commissioned by the Belfast Forward South Partnership and authored by Ulster University Professor Paddy Gray.

Hoping to de-escalate tensions in the notoriously rowdy hot-spot, the study recommends that preventative measures such as reintroducing CCTV and discouraging the wearing of sectarian symbols be deployed.

Long-term residents in the area have often been plagued by regular bouts of excessive drinking and noise from the large student population.

The south Belfast streets are often the epicentre of chaos during St Patrick's Day and the annual university freshers' celebration.

A recent push in October between the PSNI and Belfast City Council saw additional patrols during Halloween. The action then was welcomed by resident Brid Ruddy.

Now, having pushed to get the Holyland Transition Study issued, the Forward South Partnership Community director is calling on the recommendations to be enacted.

"I very much welcome the study. This report was a long time in coming," said Ms Ruddy.

If there is CCTV, it is a deterrent. The wardens were a deterrent. We have several more police on the streets now through this Chief Constable and we think that will be a positive feature as well Forward South Partnership Community director Brid Ruddy

"I would expect all of the issues raised in the Transition Study to be adopted as a whole.

"The issues are that there is no enforcement. At the moment there is sufficient legislation to charge people who are drinking on the street, but that doesn't happen." One key recommendation pointed to in the study is a reintroduction of CCTV in the area.

There was previously outcry when Belfast City Council removed the system in 2016 before some of the worst St Patrick's Day trouble occurred.

Ms Ruddy says this, along with additional policing resources, would go a long way to reassuring residents.

"If there is CCTV, it is a deterrent. The wardens were a deterrent. We have several more police on the streets now through this Chief Constable and we think that will be a positive feature as well," she added.

"What we want, in a more active way, is enforcement and then a full-time staffing compliment and a neighbourhood base in the Holyland.

"We are hoping when we meet the council in the next few months, they will start to implement short term measures and then eventually the longer term ones."

Noted in the report is the observation that despite the additional swath of purpose-built student accommodation popping up around the city, the Holyland still remains a draw for students to live.

Professor Gray's report states there is "little evidence to support the view there will be large scale movement of students out of the Holyland".

Ms Ruddy believes that the additional rooms for students will provide a good long-term solution to the issue, but admits there is a perception such accommodation is more expensive.

"Young people and their families want to pay as little as possible and they think that student accommodation is dearer. But it is not really," she added. "The Holyland has the highest crime rate in Northern Ireland. So it is much safer for students to live in purpose-built accommodation.

"We didn't think it would provide the magic bullet, but it will escalate the process.

"If you put hundreds of people in small spaces you get disorder.

"I do think it will be longer term but it has begun to make an impact."

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